Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rewriting My Life

All history is interpretation. There is no such thing as “pure history.” We think history should be about objective data – dates, facts, and artifacts. But it is largely a subjective art. History is always an interpretation of selective facts told from a certain perspective. Other people see things differently.

Other facts could have been selected by another writer, which could produce an entirely different history. That is why there are four Gospels in the New Testament, which do not fit together seamlessly, even after piously trimming the edges of some puzzle pieces and omitting others.

Nations write their history in the name of patriotism; cultures do it out of pride. “History is written by the victors,” Machiavelli said. It is also written by the vanquished; it is just a different history. I am vividly aware of this whenever I hear differing accounts of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Every person is writing his own personal history in his head all the time. We fit the events of our lives into a personal narrative that we carry with us, amending it as we go along. In this way we make sense of our lives. We give our lives meaning, and hopefully some dignity.

I write my own personal history from my perspective. Therefore I usually make sure I come out looking pretty good! Unfortunately a lot of it is fiction. I tend to omit or rewrite the bad parts of my life to justify my own failings and shortcomings, and then believe my own fiction.

I skew the facts to fit the image of myself that I want to present. I change the past to coincide with what I think should have happened. I make myself look better in my own eyes and others’ eyes, and most importantly in God’s eyes.

But I know that my interpretation of my life is a fiction. My wife keeps me honest when I get too self-deceptive. But my unwritten autobiography could still qualify as fantasy or even science fiction.

I am painfully aware just how self-deceptive I can be… and self-justifying. I confess that I am self-righteous. I could add hypocritical to that autobiographical portrait. I am not being hard on myself. Sometimes I just see myself a bit more clearly. This seems to happen most often when I am on my knees.

In prayer I can’t get away from the fact that God knows me as I really am. David wrote: “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” 

I had a friend who changed his name – both his first name and last name. He remarried and moved to a foreign country and began a new career. He completely changed his persona in an effort to rewrite the story of his life. He was, I suspect, running from a painful past.

I do not want to hide from the past or fool myself. In my better moments I want to know myself – to know myself as God knows me. The words “Know Thyself” were inscribed over the entrance to the temple at Delphi. The assumption was that you could not approach God unless you were honest with yourself.

As David ended his psalm: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

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